Report sought proving need for Houma firefighters pay hike

The Terrebonne Parish Council is requesting that Houma firefighters produce a report proving the need for pay raises similar to one produced by Houma Police Association President Kyle Faulk.

Faulk presented the Terrebonne Parish Council with an updated report showing that Houma Police officers are underpaid compared to five other similarly sized departments. The accuracy of a report he presented to the council in April was called into question. Last week’s report addressed those issues.

Councilmember Gregg Hood proposed requiring the Houma Fire Department present a similar report after Faulk spoke to the council about the revised report.

“I just can’t sit and listen to someone say, ‘Well, we need $400,000 so we can get pay raises’ and we don’t have any facts or figures to look at,” Hood said. “Right now, we have facts and figures to look at with the police department.”

Terry Leonard, president of the Houma Firefighter’s Association, said that producing a report like Faulk’s is a difficult task because fire departments across the region are difficult to compare. Some operate on a 12-hour shift, others 24. Many are volunteer-staffed.

Leonard said collecting the data will take time, but that he can request a report from the International Association of Firefighters.

Faulk’s updated figures include supplemental pay, which officers receive from the state. The information was not part of the initial report.

The initial report also failed to give a complete picture of disparities in pay between those departments because three of the five comparative departments have a corporal rank, which falls between police officers and sergeants.

This time, Faulk’s revised report added the missing figures comparing the average yearly salaries of corporals among three police departments: Lake Charles, Monroe, and Bossier City.

Decade-plus wait for promotion

According to HPD records, there are 102 people currently employed by HPD. The Times determined that more than 60 percent of the workforce is police officers earning an average salary of $42,293 not including overtime.

Faulk’s report, authored by the International Union of Police Associations, actually computes a slightly lower number, $41,872.

Officers have to be with the department for 10 years to be eligible for promotion to sergeant, which comes with an hourly .82 cent raise. HPD Chief Todd Duplantis said the department only budgets 11 sergeant positions. HPD records show 10 sergeants currently on the payroll, leaving a single opening. Eight police officers are eligible for promotion to that slot.

“Until someone leaves or retires, that’s the only time I can make promotions,” Duplantis said.

Salaries among area police departments are similar to Houma Police, but if the corporal position is considered, Houma ranks last. Lake Charles pays its officers and corporals about the same as Houma, however, the cost of living is less, according to Faulk’s report.

How to pay for raises

Faulk told the council that adding $276,000 to the payroll could allow for “substantial raises across the board” for HPD employees – from dispatchers to administrators. Earlier estimates placed this figure at $400,000.

According to Faulk, the police department has $116,000 in its payroll budget, which could fund raises through Dec. 31.

Officials have discussed several financial sources to raise police pay, including a $200 million investment fund. Unfortunately, that fund yields only .1 to .2 percent, said Jamie Elfert, chief finance officer for Terrebonne Parish.

The parish earned more than $718,000 last year in interest from its investments, Elfert said. That money has been piecemealed to fund various projects – from Hollywood Road improvements to projects within Morganza to the Gulf.

Councilwoman Arlanda Williams, who sits on a four-member council sub-committee tasked with finding raise money for HPD officers, told The Times they’ve directed Elfert to look into redistributing some money from video poker revenue. A portion of that fund pays for mosquito control and the rest goes toward public safety.

Sub-committee members agree they want to avoid increasing property taxes to fund police raises. Redistributing property taxes is being considered.

Sales tax revenues in Terrebonne continue a three-month downward spiral. Sales tax revenues are down 12 percent compared to this time last year, according to Parish President Michel Claudet. He also projects oil royalty revenues are expected to be $1 million less than last year.

Elfert told The Times in a previous interview that she can’t determine how to allocate current parish income without first getting some direction from the parish president as to what is vital and what is not.

A parish revenue estimate will be available within the next 90 days and Elfert expects to be “knee deep” in drafting the 2016 parish budget. Claudet said the time to look at pay raises would be when the budget is drafted.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know how anybody who is prudent would do anything other than be fiscally responsible with the taxpayers’ money,” Claudet said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

A public meeting with the sub-committee and parish officials involved is tentatively scheduled for 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, June 18, in the council’s sixth-floor conference room at Terrebonne Government Tower at 8026 Main St. in Houma.

Houma Firefighter Mike Jones  of Engine No. 3 in East Houma drills donning his protective firefighting gear. Representatives of Houma Firefighter’s Association must produce hard numbers proving their need for a pay raise.